Dance Review: Contemporary Israeli Dance Week at La MaMa

March 12th, 2013

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Contemporary Israeli Dance Week The Noa Eshkol Chamber Dance Group performed last week at the La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theater.

Contemporary Israeli Dance Week returned on Thursday to the La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theater in the East Village, and the opening-night program of three short dances by Noa Zuk exemplified what New York audiences have come to associate with the words “contemporary Israeli dance.”

Ms. Zuk is a former member of the Batsheva Dance Company, and she teaches Gaga, the inhibition-releasing movement language developed by the choreographer Ohad Naharin, who has been the dominant dance influence in Israel for at least a decade. His influence on Ms. Zuk is clear. At the start of “A Droom Come Tree,” her duet with Ariel Friedman, Ms. Zuk sunk into a wide squat and stuck her hand between her teeth — a blunt gesture with a shimmer of odd humor.

The rest of that duet and another, “O.M.S.,” continued the naked eccentricity in splayed thighs and high kicks. In her exit from the first piece Ms. Zuk might have been a child pretending to be a dinosaur. Through the second one Ms. Friedman wore a green tail and suggested a pony. Frequently and appealingly the two women seemed to be dancing for their own pleasure.

“Nothing III,” a 2012 solo Ms. Zuk created with Ohad Fishof that was danced by Cheryl Rosario, had mashed up Latin hips, hands used as goggles and intentionally unsynchronized lip-syncing. In her red shorts and gloves the young Ms. Rosario reminded me of Mickey Mouse.

In “Private I’s,” a film by Oren Shkedy and Dana Ruttenberg, two men (Uri Shafir and Ofir Yudilevitch) in dark suits tussle in various picturesque locations of the Levant: a road in the desert, the Dead Sea, an abandoned building. In part a satire on male posturing — an elaborate handshake crosses from street jive into Three Stooges territory — the film toys with feminine posturing too but is serious about male pain. Wide shots make the men small figures in the wilderness.

Thursday’s program (which was followed by two others) concluded with work by Noa Eshkol, who in the 1950s developed a system of dance notation and who died in 2007. Some of the 12 excerpts from two suites (ranging across four decades) that the four women of the Chamber Dance Group performed were labeled études, but all of them looked like studies, like dances composed on paper.

Ms. Eshkol believed in the independence of dance: no sets or costumes or music. These women did use a metronome, but no matter the tempo, their actions maintained a measured calm. Feet were fixed to the floor or moved in basic stepping patterns. Rather than developing a dance continuity the works made the women resemble figurines: bend left arm, tilt head right.

Nevertheless the dances were interesting in how their geometry was faintly colored by images of Greek or Baroque poses, war and heroism. In “Étude #4: Sentimental Waltz, Leave Taking,” Racheli Nul-Kahana and Ruth Sella, members of the group since the 1960s and ’70s, danced in near unison as Ms. Nul-Kahana slowly drifted away. Those two women must have known many leave takings in their lives, and just by executing Ms. Eshkol’s instructions, they made the pathos of that plain.

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